|Wild clams in sake & fish broth|
This Cantonese restaurant stands out for doing things a little differently. For example, the menu changes regularly and is remarkably brief by Chinese standards. Conspicuous by their absence are dishes perceived to be westerner-friendly such as beef in black bean sauce, and more surprisingly, high-end local favourites like abalone. Instead the emphasis is on using, wherever possible, locally sourced free-range produce and additive-free ingredients.
This ethos is highly laudable but it also raises expectations. These were already high enough given that my dining companions, Tom and Jen, are big fans of this restaurant. Indeed it was Tom's recommendation that persuaded me to finally plump for The Chairman. So, no pressure then!
老火靚湯 Soup of the day
子薑皮蛋 Pickled Mid-summer Ginger Root served w/Century Eggs
檸檬葉蝦餅 Pan-fried Prawn Cakes w/Kaffir Lime Leaves
清酒魚湯煮紐西蘭蜆 Wild Clams in Japanese Sake & Fish Broth
We, well actually I, kicked off with the soup of the day: a clean tasting slow boiled consommé with pork, tripe and greens. This was followed by century eggs, which came with the most amazing pickled ginger.
Next up were the prawn cakes bejewelled with water chestnuts. Whilst these were tasty, they were no better than what many a restaurant in this part of the world can knock-up. Everything was fine up to this point but I did wonder when the meal was going to really come alive. Well I didn't have to wait long.
The final starter of wild clams is one of those dishes that will live long in the memory. Clams always come alive with a bit of booze and the mix of sake with Cantonese fish broth is an inspired idea. The broth was so moreish, I was well chuffed that there was some mooli to mop it up with. I was beginning to understand the hype.
雞油花雕蒸花蟹配陳村粉 Steamed Fresh Flower Crab w/Aged Shaoxing Wine, Fragrant Chicken Oil & Flat Rice Noodles
十八味豉油雞 The Chairman's Soy Sauce Chicken
話梅肉桂糖醋排骨 Braised Spare Ribs w/Preserved Plums in Caramelized Black Vinegar
梅菜蒸芥籣 Steamed Kai Lan w/Pickled Chinese Vegetables
|Steamed flower crab|
|Extra rice noodles|
|The Chairman's soy chicken|
桂花杞子雪糕 Wolfberry Ice Cream
子薑雪糕 Pickled Ginger Ice Cream
生磨杏仁荼 Homemade Almond Milk
|Wolfberry ice cream|
With its retro red and gold signage, The Chairman looks like an archetypal Cantonese restaurant from the outside. However, once inside, apart from a massive chandelier, the interior is quite simple with white walls adorned by modern art. There's also a serenity that's absent from many a Hong Kong restaurant as exemplified by the quietly efficient service. I also liked that dinner was served 'banquet' style with a nice stagger to enable dishes like the clams and crab to be enjoyed without distraction.
Whilst some might find the portion sizes a bit nouveau and the price tag high (by Hong Kong standards), I think the extra quality outweighs these perceived shortcomings. Besides, if booze is taken out of the equation, I don't consider spending around HK$450/head (apx £37.50/head) on the food that we ordered as being particularly outrageous.
It's been a while since I've done one of these blow-by-blow reviews, and that's testament to how good The Chairman is. This restaurant really does capture the heart and soul of Cantonese cuisine: quality ingredients, simply cooked.
For those on a budget, there is a three-course set lunch from HK$158 (£13). There's also a set dinner for groups of 4+ from HK$488/head (£40/head). Whilst the set dinner isn't necessarily better value than going a la carte, it is an easier way to sample The Chairman's delights if you're part of a larger group.
The Chairman 大班樓
18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong
香港 中環 九如坊18號
Nearest MTR: Sheung Wan 上環
Postscript: Being a food geek. I noticed that the rice noodles served with the crab were described as 陳村粉 in Chinese or Chencun fun rather than the more usual 河粉 or ho fun. My research reveals that Chencun 陳村 is a small village near the city of Shunde 順德 in Guangdong province, an area renowned for its rice noodles. However, I'm not sure what differentiates Chencun fun from normal ho fun - can anyone out there shed some light on this matter?
(Update May 2013 - this post has been amended to remove use of language that may offend)